The Eastern and Western Courts

At Valentinian I's death in 375 C.E., his son Valentinian II was made co-Augustus with his half-brother Gratian, who had been ruling as co-Augustus with his father since 367 C.E. Immediately upon their succession, the purge of the imperial courts led by Ausonius ousted most members of their father's court. Under the influence of Ausonius, Gratian replaced these career bureaucrats with landed gentry, literary scholars, and a propertied upper class—the old, pagan nobility. For the Roman senate the accession of Gratian was a cause for rejoicing. Valentinian I's henchmen who had persecuted the Roman senators for pagan religious practices were executed and the possibility of renewed political favors between the court and the senate offered itself. Indeed, the new Christian emperors still needed the support of the Roman pagan aristocracy. It was the emperor and the senate together that governed the Roman state. The Christian Ausonius and the non-Christian Symmachus were friends, correspondents, and, most importantly, fellow patricians, who supported each other to retain the privileges of their class. The link between the Christian court and the (mostly) pagan senatorial aristocracy was strong. To the Roman aristocracy, the spirit of tolerance exhibited by the successors to Constantius II seemed assured in Gratian and there was no reason to expect that the altar of Victory and all that it symbolized were in jeopardy. The military catastrophe of 378 C.E. was the beginning of a turning point, however, in these comfortable relations between the Christian and non-Christian aristocrats in the imperial court and the Roman senate.

In 378 C.E., when the Visigoths won the battle against Valens at Hadrianople in Thrace, events happened quickly: Gratian, at sixteen, became the senior Augustus and his five-year-old brother Valentinian II, his coruler. Theodosius, a loyal military commander under Valentinian I, was recalled from Spain and was named emperor in the east. Early in his reign he set about establishing western orthodox Catholicism throughout his areas of jurisdiction.

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